Surf music is a glorious anomaly. It was born as an appendix of the genre of instrumental groups that emerged at the end of the fifties but ended up establishing itself -because of the influence of the Beach Boys and their epigones- as the music of primitive voices. It is intimately related to a sport but it concludes by synthesizing all the best elements of the lifestyle of a particularly fortunate youth sector. It has a regional origin (Southern California) but has fascinated people from all places: the unpalatable England has a remarkable school of vocal groups of surfer inspiration. It ends abruptly in 1965, stabbed by the invasion of British manes and intoxicated by the first countercultural aromas, but has been resurrected by punks (the Ramones) or rockers (Loquillo). A case for Inspector Clouseau. evidently.



Let’s investigate The explosion of instrumental groups since 1958 is a result of the decline of rock and roll. Then. the wildest forms of rockabilly or rhythm and blues have ceased to be a novelty and are in sharp decline as the record industry has dominated the secret of the launching of youthful idols: generally, handsome boys, with Italian blood and willing to let themselves be molded by talented producers who insist on recording melodic rock or cheeky ballads. Youth music that replaces rock and roll is recorded in Philadelphia, New York or Los Angeles. In the periphery there are thousands of groups that have to face public dances, they feel the need to renew but they do not want (or can not) put a figurine in front. So they decide to pass as a singer, not to commit to the rough past or the soft present, and opt for the rock formula without words. There is another reason. The instrumental music of previous years -generally of black performers- is dominated by piano, sax or organ. They are not easy instruments or in the case of keyboards, very transportable. And the electric guitar is, uh, sexier and more modern. In addition, over time, the boys have learned to know their secrets and already know how to make curious noises that excite the listeners’ imagination. And so arise Duanne Eddy, Link Wray, the Ventures, Johnny & The Hurricanes (not very guitarists, it’s true). Lonnie Mack. the Tune Rockers …


And in California, a guitarist named Dick Dale works in front of the Del-tones. He has released powerful sung records (without luck). The guy lives next to the beach, surfs and has a crazy idea: to play 55 sensations of being rider of the waves by means of the instruments. He tries it with “Let’s go tripping”, published at the end of the summer of 1961. There was already precedents of that sound (“Stampede”, of the Scarlets, in 1959) but he molds all the elements. rhythmic tension. feeling of acceleration, reverb and tremolo on the guitar, echo on the saxophone, It turns out!




Dick Dale & The Deltones ravage. Among the communities of surfers, the word is spread: «there is a guy who makes music for US». And imitated come here and there, instrumental groups that learn (and improve) their tricks. Usually, a formation of two guitars. sax, bass and drums. The guitars, Fender Stratocaster or Fender Jaguar (the amplification and the reverb also bear the mark of Leo Fender, who collaborates with Dale).

The Marketts invade the national waves («Surte, stomp», «Balboa blue»), the Surfaris («Wipe out», «Surfer Jose»), the Chantays («Pipeline»), the Pyramids («Penetration»).

They are the crest of the wave: in those years, small California labels edit hundreds of surfing singles. And they imitate groups that have not stepped on the Californian beaches: the Ventures launch -successfully- a surf version of “Walk do not run”. Equal conversion to the new religion will manifest the Wailers (such as the Seattle Ventures), the Astronauts (pride of Denver) or the Trashmen (Minneapolis).


Surfin ‘fever. Among the masses of surfers who come to levitate with Dick Dale in the Rendezvouz Ballroom (Balboa) are some ambitious kids, the Wilson brothers. They do not have great skills as instrumentalists: they adore the vocal groups of the fifties and prefer to sing.

Brian Wilson and Mike Love compose “Surfin ‘”, a song that does not try to reproduce the trepidation of surfing since it tells everything in the lyrics: “I woke up this morning, I put the radio / wanted to know how the waves went to see if I could go / and when the disc jockey tells me that the surfin ‘is perfect / I know that my girl and I will have a good time / that we will go surfing ».

The Beach Boys debuted on the Candis label but soon jump to the powerful Capitol, where they snatch the staff with “Surfin ‘safari”, “South: end’ USA” and “Surfer girl”. Further. Brian works with the prolific Gary Usher (producer-arranger) and Roger Christian (disc jockey at KFWB). He also collaborates with Jan (Berry) and Dean (Torrance) in glories such as “Surf city”, followed by “Honolulu Lulu”, “Ride the wild surf” and “Sidewalk surfin.”.


Both groups -Jan & De., Beach Boys- have a rich history, they soon abandon surfing, suffer more from a tragedy and deserve a space that can not be granted at this time. Be evidence of his vocal brilliance, his wit to capture the aspirations of surf culture and its profound influence.

For example, in the couple Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher. The first, would end up joining the Beach Boys: the second, the son of Doris Day, would produce the Byrds and Paul Revere & The Raiders and would be saved-by chance-from being massacred by the band of Charles Manson.

Before all this, they encourage the surfing tribes with abundant released albums like Bruce and Terry, the Hot Doggers, the Rip Chords or the Bruce Johnson Surfing Band. Many of their recordings are very professional covers but they also make intoxicating odes to the surfers’ vehicles (“There win-dow cospe”, “Hey little cobra”, “Hot rod USA”, “Custoom machine”). Then we will discuss the property of considering those pieces – “hot rod music” – like surf music (“on this beach we spin thin, doll”).


Let’s now do some cheap sociology. Who were those surfers? At the beginning of the sixties, California is at the head of the United States in per capita income and in research on “quality of life”. More prosperous than Japan, the state is the true New Frontier and attracts torrents of emigrants (300,000 each year, according to official statistics) from other regions or Mexico.

People looking for a relaxed lifestyle, sunny and bathed by the sea. Apart from the geographical and climatological conditions, california can not enjoy good job opportunities, formidable universities and a tolerant social climate.


The Bruce Brown, faithful to the spirit of the movement (“Endless summer” is pure audio-visual poetry), arrive at the B-series beach movies, insipid productions featuring surfers such as Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Bobby Vinton, Fabian, Tab Hunter.

It has not yet debuted the Silver Surfer in the Marvel comics but there are already television series (“Hawaiian eye”, “Surfside six”) that exploits the issue. John Severson, head of “Surfer Maganzine”, tries to bring order. For purists, surfing has already perished when the stars of the genre stop treating basically the glories of the waves to devote themselves to singing motorcycles, sports cars, trucks and buggies that circulate in the sand.

Vehicles are essential elements of the environment: gasoline is cheap and the wheels provide the necessary mobility to get closer to parties and suitable beaches. But devils! there are songs about scooters. Scooters! And they insist on marking the limits between «surf» and «hot rod music». They prefer Troy Donahue (“Surfside six”) in front of the motorized Kookie (Ed Byrnes) of “77 Sunset Strip”.

An even more intolerant group denies even the category of surf music to the songs of Beach Boys and company: “they talk about surfing but they do NOT have the surfing sound”. For them, surfing is instrumental, evocative, impressionistic. «It has degenerated everything». Any artist surfs (see list of notables who wanted to grab a slice of the matter) and in the lists are some kaffans like the Trashmen -from Minnesotal- with “Surfin bird” or the Tradewinds, a couple of New Yorkers -Vinni Poncia and Peter Andreoli- who explains in “New York is a lonely tome” how badly surfers are on the East Coast. They complain that the spirit of brotherhood, the sense of community, of shared secrecy, has disappeared. The summer is over and the sharks haunt the beach.


What happens to the surf legions as they age? They say that many commit suicide when they discover that it has an end.

No, exaggeration: for the most part, they slip into the Real World of jobs, mortgages, divorces. Others go on the roller coaster of the counterculture. And there is a small minority, living on the beaches, chewing the memories of the Good Old Times and wearing down the grooves of their most beloved LPs. They keep the flame.


Of course, you do not stop surfing but there is no longer that exclusive cult atmosphere. The corresponding music languishes although the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean have periods of reactivation and benefit from nostalgia for a more innocent and simple time.

The waves rise again from the second half of the seventies. As people like Papa Doo Run Run, that Dorado come true. Southern California covers the southwestern part of the state, from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara. Coast of insulting beauty, with mountains in the background. They say that, any day, the telluric forces will be angry, an earthquake will justify justice and all that will sink in the Pacific. But that does not unduly concern the surfers who dance with Dick Dale to the Beach Boys. Product of the “baby boom”, the demographic explosion that follows the Second World War, have not known in their life more than prosperity.

The war in Vietnam is a fight between types of slanted eyes that does not affect them at all. They drink Coca and Pepsi, they drive cars bought by their parents, they can use the swimming pools of their houses and look out of the windows to see gardens of a resplendent greenery. And those who do not enjoy a private pool or car, hope to have it “next year”.


This healthy and lustrous generation, sunny blonde and flask, well fed and educated under the liberal ideas of Dr. Spock entertains his leisure with parties, visits to the auto-cinema, some stations that program exciting music, television with many channels. Inevitably, they gravitate towards the beaches. There, turn on the surf, a sport imported from Hawaii. Surfers are the kings of the beach: they have their own jargon, they enjoy music made especially for them, they live with the indolent hope that the waves of tomorrow will be even better and that they will be able to star in new feats of balance and endurance that will be the talk in the next party.

A correction: surfing is MORE than a sport. Apart from a physical experience, it has something spiritual, of … mystical. Live to hunt the Perfect Wave. Briefly mastering the sparkling Forces of Nature. Hope for Eternal Youth, joy without interference.


Surfers quickly enter the world of drugs. In fact, the first reference to acid in a rock album appears on the B side of a single from the Gamblers of 1961, a surfing sounding titled (there is nothing) «LSD-25».

A substance that is still legal and that pushes many creatures of the beach towards the psychedelic culture, in which the games with the waves are left as children’s thing.

In 1964, riots break out at the University of Berkeley and young Californians – under the irritated eyes of Governor Reagan – become radicalized. The English sounds bring the fashions of Carnaby Street and suddenly, the jeans and the T-shirts and the shorts are past, old.

A mortal sin The first symptoms of jipism begin to flourish. Surfing has become a big business. After the documentaries that accompany Jan & Dean in their reappearance and commercial surf with professionalism. With Jon & The Nightriders or The Packards (relief Surfer of the restless Chris Darrow).

With Dennis Dragon, member of the Dragons of 1964, assistant of the Beach Boys and founder in 1977 of the fearsome Surf Punks. With the What? Records, which starts with punk, reedit, the Pyramids LP and record young surfing bands. With the resurrection of Dick Dale and Corky Carroll (champion of beach competitions) proposing “A surfer for president” in 1980 and … everything is another story. Now, just close your eyes and review in the mental movement impossible dreams. Surf’s up!


Texto por; Diego A. Manrique

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